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Monday, 21 February 2011
Page: 689


Ms PARKE (7:02 PM) —The National Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2010 is intended to repeal the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act 2005 and put in place a proper process to establish a facility for managing, at a single site, radioactive waste arising from medical, industrial and research uses of radioactive material. I fully support the repeal of the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act 2005, which the Howard Government rammed through the parliament and which was described variously as ‘extreme’, ‘arrogant’, ‘heavy-handed’, ‘draconian’, ‘sorry’, ‘sordid’, ‘extraordinary’ and ‘profoundly shameful’.

In 2008, the Senate Environment, Communications and Arts Committee found that the CRWMA legislation was unfair and discriminatory, that consultations and decision-making processes should reflect the interests of all clan groups in the immediate area, that a new foundation for building Australia’s nuclear waste policy was needed and that the legislation should be repealed. There is now a new bill before the House which itself has been the subject of some debate.

The area in question is a place north of Tennant Creek known as Muckaty Station. It has become the proposed site as a result of an agreement between the Howard government and the Northern Land Council. I understand that the class of traditional owners is disputed and is the subject of a Federal Court action at the present time. There are nevertheless a number of Aboriginal communities from the Ngapa, Milwayi, Wintirku, Ngarrka and Yapakurla groups in the Muckaty area identifying themselves as the traditional owners of the Manuwangku/Warlmanpa Land Trust who strongly object to a nuclear waste dump in the vicinity of their land.

I note the concerns expressed about the bill by the former member for Solomon, Damian Hale, in a speech in this place on 18 March 2010, and by the member for Barkly in the Northern Territory, Gerry McCarthy, in a submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee dated 5 March 2010. In that submission, Mr McCarthy said he supported ‘the development of safe and secure processes for the transport and storage of Australia’s nuclear waste on a national level with reference to the security of our generation and our future generations’. However, Mr McCarthy also said: ‘If the decision is based on the testimony of an extended family group living far-removed from Muckaty Station then the total dislocation of the Waramungu and Warlmanpa tribal communities of the Barkly that I represent is at stake … Any determination to proceed without direct, open and accountable consultation with the wider contemporary Indigenous community representing the neighbouring clans, moiety and tribal groups of the central Barkly will effectively lead to generational division and conflict among the very people the Minister has set out to support.’

I am aware that the road to this point has been long and tortuous and that there is a desire to achieve a solution to the vexed issue of the disposal of nuclear waste produced in Australia. Nevertheless, a number of issues have been raised with respect to the bill and I would like to speak to some of them. The first is the issue of community consent. The international human rights principles set out in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, require the ‘free, prior and informed consent’ of affected communities. While the Northern Land Council signed off on this deal with the previous government some years ago in circumstances that are unclear, it is clear that the persons affected by a radioactive waste storage facility go well beyond persons who have a formal proprietary interest in the land on which the facility is constructed.

The bill allows ‘persons with a right or interest in the subject land’ to comment upon the proposed approval of a nomination and declaration of a selected site. It is indicated in the explanatory memorandum, and I am assured by the minister’s office that the phrase ‘persons with a right or interest in the land’ is to be interpreted broadly in accordance with normal administrative law and natural justice principles to mean all persons affected by the proposed approvals and declarations. Second, the bill provides that a failure to comply with the procedural and due process provisions in the proposed legislation, including requirements for consultation with affected communities, will not invalidate nominations or ministerial decisions. Again, I am assured by the minister’s office that these provisions relate only to technical breaches of the procedural and due process provisions and will not permit wholesale abrogation of the right of interested parties to be fully consulted. Further, concerns have been raised that the minister’s absolute discretion in relation to declarations and approvals is not required by the legislation to be constrained or shaped by criteria such as community consent or other scientific, environmental, social, cultural or economic considerations. I am, however, assured that all such considerations will be taken into account in the context of the required assessments under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

I conclude by making the general observation that we should always guard against the notion that remoteness equates to emptiness, which seems to be the view of the member for Canning who said, when speaking on this bill a little earlier today, ‘no-one lives there’. I am not at all suggesting that such a view informs this bill—I know it does not—but it is important to acknowledge that there are people affected by this proposed legislation whose geographical situation means, at the very least, that they tend to have less access to the nerve centres of policy and politics. That makes it critical that we acknowledge that such people have a deep and abiding connection to the land and that they are, and always be will be, entitled to have their views listened to and taken into account.